5 Tips for Turning a SharePoint 2010 Search Center into a Find Center
After my husband’s last fishing trip, I peeked in the cooler and saw—nothing. He shrugged and said, “It’s called fishing, not catching.”
After listening to customer feedback on various Search Centers in SharePoint Server 2010, I could sympathize. Some users had just given up on search altogether, resorting instead to clicking through a maze of team sites and shared folders. I felt like responding, “It’s called searching, not finding.”
However, it was my job to figure out best practices for creating a search experience that would yield results and keep users coming back. Some of the following recommendations are fairly easy to implement and others take a bit more effort, but all can greatly improve search results. It’s important to remember that search administration is an iterative process, and ultimately requires cooperation between administrators, site owners, and users to create a living, organic experience.
#1—Appoint a search administrator
Several times I’ve asked large groups of SharePoint professionals for a show of who has a dedicated search administrator for their environment, and I’ve never seen more than 3 or 4 hands go up. Really, it doesn’t need to be a full-time position, but it should be a role with defined responsibilities that someone in your organization fulfills for at least a couple of hours each week. If you implement search and just leave it alone, at best it will be a moderately useful experience for your users, and at worst it will scare them away from ever using search again. Having a defined search administrator ensures that someone is accountable for monitoring and making necessary changes.
#2—Plan your search system
The amount of planning required depends on the size of your environment and how dependent it is on search. The series of TechNet articles listed on Enterprise search planning (SharePoint Server 2010) provide good information on planning the following:
- Information-gathering. You need to know where all of your content sources are, whether they are shared folders, team sites, or databases. An initial crawl can tell you a lot about where you should focus your search planning, especially in regards to managed properties, keywords, and crawl schedules.
- Search team and stakeholders. Include the people who know your content best: site owners, database administrators, and power users.
- Search topology. This page includes links to helpful technical diagrams and performance and capacity recommendations.
- Crawling and federation. Set crawl schedules that allow for content freshness and performance; sometimes you might have to sacrifice one for another. Also plan for crawling external sites and federating search results.
- Search scopes. Allow users to scope searches within a certain site or other by other parameters to make their searches easier and more relevant.
- Metadata properties. Plan managed properties carefully so that users can refine their searches on familiar metadata properties like Department or Author.
- People search. Help users find others with the expertise they need for their projects.
- Keywords, synonyms, and Best Bets. Increase the relevance of search results by using all three of these.
During this process, be sure to collaborate closely with site owners and other stakeholders. Get their input on any content types, managed properties, and possible keywords that they need for refined and relevant searches on their sites. Doing this work up front can minimize users having to change their search habits later because of changed or deleted managed properties they have relied on in the past for search refiners.
While upfront planning can save a few headaches down the line, it’s also important to remember that providing an excellent search experience is an iterative process. Content changes over time, as does the importance of certain documents. Regular monitoring and acting on user feedback will ensure that searches remain relevant (see Step #4, below).
#3—Develop an excellent Search Center
The default Search Center above might be enough for some sites (hey, the minimalist approach works for Google), but with some work, you can turn this into a Search Center that is useful enough for users to set it as their home page. You can get a lot of good ideas from the white paper How Microsoft IT Deployed FAST Search Server 2010 for SharePoint, especially the Enterprise search center article. This screenshot from the white paper provides an example of what you can do with your Search Center. FAST Search Server will give you a richer experience on the search results page, but the items you see on this Search Center are achievable with SharePoint 2010—or even SharePoint 2007.
To create a Search Center that is the go-to place for your users, you can add helpful information such as links to event calendars, corporate news, campus maps, benefits, expense reporting, and research portals.
The following articles provide useful information on customizing Search Centers:
#4—Monitor and tweak the search system
At least weekly, the Search Administrator appointed in the first step above should view the Web Analytics Reports. Note that the search-specific reports only appear at the site collection level, not the web application level (although you can see the Number of Queries report at the web application level). The most important report to review here is the Failed Queries report, which will help you identify keywords, Best Bets, and synonyms that you should add. Todd Klindt has a helpful blog post about viewing and analyzing Web Analytics Reports.
In addition, you should regularly review the search administration reports to evaluate the performance of your search system. You can find detailed information about the reports in this TechNet article.
If you have a lot of requests for changing the search system, like adding new managed properties, establish good governance policies to manage these changes and utilize a tool such as Axceler's ControlPoint to create and manage these governance policies.
Gather feedback from your users. This can be as simple as creating a survey on your search results page.
#5—Educate your users and mobilize an army of search champions
Users should know how to use the refiners on the search results page, and within the search bar itself (for example, typing author:Jane Austen when searching for documents by Jane Austen). Also, you might be surprised at how many users don’t know how to use (or even access) the Advanced Search page. I once gave an impromptu demo to a group of very tech-savvy, longtime SharePoint users on this particular feature, because I discovered that most of them had never bothered to click Advanced on any of the search pages.
They should also know about the importance of tagging content and improving their documents’ metadata (this amusing anecdote explains why).
Enlisting the help of search champions in your organization can help to drastically improve search results. You might be able to a find a few search champions from the site owners and other stakeholders you identified in your planning steps, but you can also enlist other users. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a vocal sub-site owner or two who are unhappy with search results on their sites. You can educate them on the value of tagging content and improving document metadata, and they can help with updating keywords, synonyms, and Best Bets. Your former detractors can become some of your most important allies for improving search results. I know of a few such SharePoint search evangelists who went so far as to offer prizes like iPods and gift certificates in tagging and metadata contests they ran for their departments.
These tips will help you turn your Search Center into a Find Center so that users keep coming back to get results they can trust. Now to figure out how to turn fishing into catching!
[This article is the first in a series on SharePoint productivity, helping you to get more out of your SharePoint investments, and comes from guest author Andrea Bichsel]